*Updated on 7/20/20
Bill name: Secure and Safe Elections for (SAFE) Workers Act
Bill sponsor: H.R. 7485, Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI)
Summary: The SAFE Workers Act (H.R. 7485) requires the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to conduct union organizing elections via electronic voting during a federally-declared pandemic. It authorizes $1 million for the NLRB to develop an electronic voting system within 60 days of enactment and, if that system is not functional, to use the existing electronic voting system of the National Mediation Board in the interim. An appropriations rider approved annually since 2012 has prohibited the NLRB from using electronic voting in union organizing elections. The SAFE Workers Act would eliminate that rider.
Electronic voting has been a priority for Congressional Democrats in recent years, albeit now their legislative effort has been tied to concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fiscal Year 2020 Labor Appropriations bill (H.R. 2740), introduced by House Democrats on May 15, 2020 – well before the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminated the traditional rider prohibiting NLRB electronic voting. The rider was restored during House-Senate negotiations and included in the FY20 Labor Appropriations signed into law as part of a consolidated appropriations package, H.R. 1865 (Sec. 407).
Later in 2019, on September 25 – also well before the COVID-19 pandemic – as the House Education and Labor Committee marked up the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, H.R. 2747, Rep. Levin offered an amendment to require the NLRB to allow electronic voting. The amendment was approved on a party-line vote, and the PRO Act approved by the House on February 6, 2020. The PRO Act has not moved in the Senate.
More recently, the House Democrats’ FY21 Labor Appropriations bill (H.R. 7614) once again seeks to eliminate the rider while also earmarking $1 million specifically for the NLRB to develop an electronic voting system that must be operational “no later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act.” On June 6, 2020, the House Education and Labor Committee conducted a virtual briefing titled, “Obstacles to Union Representation Elections During COVID-19.” Republican members did not participate in the event. During the event, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) criticized the NLRB for suspending union organizing elections for several weeks at the start of the pandemic and prohibiting the use of electronic voting due to a “little-known [appropriations] rider.” Rep. Levin called for future COVID-19 relief bills to allow NLRB electronic voting and include funding to do so. Levin previously organized a letter on this matter with Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
Critics of the move argue that NLRB electronic voting would be ripe for fraud and risk exposing workers’ personal information. Furthermore, electronic voting is a long-desired goal of organized labor now being pushed under the guise of pandemic response.
According to a statement from the bill sponsor, H.R. 7485 has been endorsed by the following organizations: “AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Communications Workers of America (CWA); International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW); International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE); Transit Workers Union of America (TWU); United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW); and United Steelworkers (USW).”
PRESS RELEASE: “Levin, Fitzpatrick Introduce Bipartisan SAFE Workers Act for Electronic Union Elections”
July 2, 2020, AndyLevin.house.gov
VIDEO: “SAFE Workers Act Press Conference with American Federation of Teachers and Communication Workers of America”
July 8, 2020, YouTube.com
LETTER: “Impact of COVID-19 on NLRB-Supervised Union Elections”
Authors: Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Tim Walberg (R-MI)
June 30, 2020, Committee on Education and Labor
Electronic Union Elections: A Permanent “Temporary” Solution?
July 24, 2020, CEI.org
Competitive Enterprise Institute, Sean Higgins